Monday, December 22, 2014

A second N.J. bridge is said to draw probe

Gallery: A second N.J. bridge is said to draw probe
NEWARK, N.J. - Already embroiled in a criminal probe over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, Gov. Christie's administration is facing an investigation over a second bridge.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating whether $1.8 billion in funding to repair the Pulaski Skyway and related projects - pushed by the Christie administration - was misrepresented in bond documents by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a person familiar with the investigation told the Associated Press.

The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A government official with direct knowledge said the District Attorney's Office is investigating.

Besides federal laws and regulations, New York state has its own securities law, called the Martin Act. It allows for criminal charges for making false statements when selling bonds and some other financial instruments; the charges can be felonies. The law also allows authorities to bring civil suits.

In an e-mailed statement, the Port Authority said the agreement for the bridge project "was analyzed and negotiated by lawyers on all sides," and the bond disclosures were reviewed by a law firm that has served as underwriters' counsel for the authority for 25 years.

A spokeswoman for District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. declined to comment Tuesday, as did representatives for Christie and the SEC.

The New York Times first reported the investigation.

The decaying, 82-year-old Skyway connecting Newark and Jersey City carries 70,000 vehicles daily. The Skyway is owned and operated by New Jersey and offers a direct route to the Holland Tunnel.

The inbound lanes were closed in April for two years for the $1 billion project.

The 3.5-mile steel truss bridge is a New Jersey symbol, featured in Orson Welles' 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds, and in the opening credits of the television series The Sopranos.

Christie began to push for the project after he pulled the plug on a $9 billion rail tunnel from New Jersey into Manhattan in 2010 - a project that was to have used $3 billion from the Port Authority.

But the agreement signed in 2011 between the Port Authority and the New Jersey Department of Transportation labeled it an approach to the Lincoln Tunnel, which is several miles away.

According to published reports, the Port Authority is not authorized to pay for work on access roads to the Holland Tunnel because the tunnel predates the authority's 1921 formation. The agency can pay for roads leading to the Lincoln Tunnel.

The Bergen Record first reported on the Port Authority's mention of the Lincoln Tunnel in the Skyway documents.

Christie's administration also is the target of state and federal investigations over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last fall that appear to have been ordered as political payback.

Several Port Authority officials have resigned and Christie fired a staffer who apparently was revealed to have ordered the closures in an e-mail.

Christie has denied any advance knowledge of the lane closure scheme. A taxpayer-funded report prepared by a law firm commissioned by Christie is said to have absolved the governor of any wrongdoing.

David Porter and Jennifer Peltz Associated Press
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